Thursday, May 21, 2009


My last post, just yesterday, talks a lot about Toronto and about all that we have to learn from each other here.  There's also a quick mention of the Tamil grocery stores along Parliament Street.  But these days the word Tamil means suffering.  This week we have all been reminded of the pain and suffering of Tamils in Sri Lanka.  You may think the Tamil Tigers are too extreme or you may agree with them completely, but either way it's unarguable that many non-militant people have been caught in the cross-fire and have suffered, and continue to suffer because of the war in Sri Lanka.  

Here in Toronto the Tamil community, along with others who support them, was out in force for demonstrations calling on the Canadian government and the US governmment to broker a peace, so that the killing could stop.  I saw a man swearing at to a middle-aged Tamil woman who was carrying a "instead of one country at war, why not two countries at peace?" sandwich board.  The man was angry because he'd been inconvenienced by the protests, as had many others.  I intervened, told him to stop speaking so roughly and rudely to her.  And I said "she has a right to protest; her rights are your rights"  But the guy said, "It is on the other side of the world.  It has nothing to do with me.  They should just all go back to Sri Lanka."  So then I repeated "Her rights are your rights."  

But the day the Singhalese Army declared victory, every Tamil I saw (so many people from the community work in restaurants like those down the street from us) looked sombre.  All that death and suffering, all that effort, and in the end the hope is steam-rollered by the Singhalese military.  Heartbreak.

PostScript:  There's a comment just in on this post, asking why we always seem to sympathise with those who want to separate but oppose separatists in Quebec.  I don't necessarily agree that the Tamils should have a separate country, I don't know enough, but I do agree that there has been murderous bloodshed and there have been horrible acts committed by both the Singhalese army and the Tamil Tigers.  The result is that many civilians have suffered.  And that's what the post is about, the harshness of the siffering.  The same goes for my post a long while back that mentions the murderous situation in Gaza.  War is always hardship and murder and devastation, especially for the civilians caught in the cross-fire.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Heat at last, promised for today and tomorrow, hurrah!   I was up in Grey County on the weekend, and only two nights ago there was frost, and then gleaming frosted grasses in the early morning, until the sun reached them and turned them bright green again.  Perhaps with the promised heat, the basil plants that are shivering here in the back garden will at last start to thrive.  Can't wait!

Our young friend Melissa is here from Chiang Mai visiting for several months.  She is a great addition to the household.  And she's wide-eyed out in the city, amazed at chilly rain (rain in Thailand comes after hot season, so it's far from the European style chilly spring rains we have had this month); at the tulips, now finishing, and glorious flowering trees of May (the ornamental plums in King's College Circle at the University of Toronto, just up the street, are in full magnificent deep pink bloom right now); at the pleasure of treasure-hunting for used clothing, in shops and in friends' piles of cast-offs...   

We are delighted Melissa is here, for we get to see everything freshly through her eyes.  And I love coming across pink (pink shoes, pink computer cover, pink socks, etc) in the house.  Pink is usually in short supply in this household of male people.  It feels like another kind of springtime.

May has also brought a nice surprise: we are one of the entries in the wide-ranging list of "Fifty Things We Love About Toronto" that is the cover story in the May issue of Toronto Life magazine.  For the magazine there's a nice cross-connect between our books' exploration of food cultures in ASia and elsewhere, and the food cultures in Toronto.

I've always felt so lucky to live here, and one huge reason is the richness of the culture here, multi-layered, and constantly evolving.  Of course that complexity and creativity is echoed in the food culture, which means I am always a beginner, always coming across foods I don't know in my local Chinese and Vietnamese groceries, or in the Ethiopian store in Kensington Market, or the South American stores along Augusta.  All those are within ten minutes' walk of the house.  It's hard to feel a need to go further afield, but when I do, to say, the wonderful Tamil shops along Parliament, I find lots of familiar produce and products, and again, also often feel like a beginner, ignorant of so much that is there.  (And notice that I haven't even mentioned, let alone described, the extraordinary food culture maps of the inner and outer suburbs here.)

What a luxury, to be reminded every day of how much there is to understand and of how little I still know.  And how lucky to be able to learn every day from my neighbours!  

So it's not just Melissa who is walking around amazed and pleased in Toronto...

PS A friend I ran into the other day at Wychwood Market (Saturday mornings near Christie and St Clair) told me she and her family had been very sick after eating undercooked (they wanted them crunchy) fiddleheads.  Then they googled and it turns out that the Ministry of Health says we should all know that fiddleheads must be cooked through (steam them, cook them in a little boiling water...).  So resist the impulse make them al dente.  Save that for carrots or broccoli or zucchini. 

Monday, May 11, 2009


Out shopping in Kensington Market yesterday, I stopped in at 4 Life, at the corner of Augusta and Nassau to say hi to Potz and have a look for some rhubarb.  I had to pick up some apples (fuji's) instead, because there was no rhubarb left (it's just newly arriving here, like the local asparagus)...  

The fruit was for a tart, using the second half of some extremely short pastry I'd made the day before.  The first half did turn into a rhubarb tart with some rhubarb I'd found earlier.  The tart was open-faced, and firmed up with a little custard poured over near the end of baking.  I made it at my friend Pattie's house, baked it in her convection oven.  I've never baked in a convection oven before.  Is it better for pies?  Or is it just generally faster? or?  The pie, improvised, as ever, turned out beautifully.  Last night's, all apples, was melty and delish, the apples still slightly resistant to the bite, which I love.  I had a small bowl of it left over for breakfast this morning.

But I started talking about Potz at 4 Life for another reason.  I told him yesterday that I was planning to grill the wonderful-looking steak I'd bought from him ten days ago (frozen; and at the time he didn't remember the price of the cut, so though I had it in my freezer for a week, it was only paid for on Friday!).  Potz put a generous handful of wild leeks in my hand.  "If you're grilling meat, just put these on the grill alongside," he said.  I did, after brushing them with a little olive oil.  They were gorgeous, beautiful on a yellow Fiesta ware plate, and a delish treat seasoned with a sprinkle of Malden salt.

And the beef?  Well that too was delish, local pasture-fed Ontario beef.  I sliced it thinly, then made a simple "yam neua", Thai grilled beef salad, with just slices of shallot (Asia purple ones), generous garden mint and some store-bought Thai basil, tossed with a lime juice-fish sauce dressing.  I left out chiles because our friend Dina stops breathing if she has any chile (very inconvenient, a sensitivity to capsaicin!) and even in this altered version the salad vanished.

There was a small crowd of friends here yesterday evening, eating and drinking and talking.  The excuse (do we ever really need one?) was that Dom has finished his undergrad, Ian is leaving tomorrow for Thailand, and Melissa has just arrived from Chiang Mai, so we thought we' d pause to enjoy the moment.  It was a kind of improvised celebration, I guess you could say.  (Yesterday was also mothers' day.  Every day is mothers' day, of course.  I find I can accept the Hallmark thing though, because it is a good idea that at least once in a year people get formally reminded of mothers' essential role in the universe!  Don't you agree?)

And what better way to celebrate all good things than by hanging around with friends, being warmed by the extended family?  I can't think of anything I like more.

and for those who want more about the food people brought:
there was prosciutto with sliced figs and lots of lime wedges [I originally wrote "lemon wedges" and then was firmly corrected by Trisha "I ALWAYS use lime wedges, if I have them, with prosciutto!"]; there was a pile of grilled chicken wings from Kung with her fabulous nam jeem (hot and sweet and tart dipping sauce); there was another Thai beef salad from Ben and Susan; an asparagus salad from Emily; a beet and endive and onion salad from Hilary; two great dips from Anne: a hummous and a tapaenade; a Thai red curry with fried tofu, shiitakes, and green eggplants; a plain cake; a huge tin of chocolate chip cookies made with chopped good chocolate; the apple tart; a ricotta galette from Dawn; a huge lasagna from Ethan; and wine of various descriptions from many people.  Warm thoughts and thanks to all...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The large crabapple tree that shelters the front of the house from the street is coming into radiant white bloom, and underneath it the lilies of the valley are slowly starting into flower. Spring springs!

Last night had a lovely pair of phone calls:
The first was from Fern, a good friend from Thailand who lives in Chiang Mai and who was the lynchpin of our immersethrough week in February.  We couldn't have done it without her; and the out-of-town cooking took place at her very beautiful farm near Fang.  Fern was calling because her nineteen-year-old daughter Melissa is flying to Toronto this week to stay with us for the summer and Fern wanted to touch base about some last-minute things.  
Melissa is going to find it chilly here until summer heat arrives, but then she prefers cool to hot, even though she was raised in Thailand.  We are so looking forward to having her here, watching her get comfortable in this very different place and culture. 

The second call was from Tina Ujlaki, a good friend,  who gave me news and then passed the phone on to Jim Oseland, the wonderfully quirky editor of Saveur and fun guy to travel with.  They were with our editor Ann Bramson at the Beard Awards last night. It was Ann's phone, in fact.  They were all three happy to give us the news that Beyond the Great Wall had won best International book.  Delightful!  (Yes, one of us should have gone, but suddenly the trip seemed expensive and too much to squeeze in; lovely Ann Bramson was stuck with having to accept for us and stand up and speak.  Thanks Ann!)   

Later we learned that Jennifer McLagan's FAT! had won book of the year (as well as best SIngle Subject book).  Publishers were very unimaginative about the book, reluctant to consider it, until finally M&S, here in Toronto, and Ten-Speed joined forces to publish it.  As a result, Jennifer, Liv Blumer (her agent and ours), and all those of us who always thought Fat was a great subject, are feeling victorious and vindicated.  We all get to share in the win, in a small way.  

So today is very different from yesterday for Jennifer...

And for all of us, life changes every day in big ways and small.  Tashi had his last exam yesterday and became a free man.  How lovely!    

This talk of change reminds me of a conversation I had via email with a close friend, Lillian, a wise-woman.  She came up with the phrase "the dance of balance"  which is a wonderful way of expressing the dynamic moving-target essence of life (and of relationships too, such a big subset of life).  We try for equilibrum, but everything is changing around us, in happy ways and harsh ways, but always changing.  So it's a dance, a dance of balance.

In this springing early May time of year it's easier to feel light on my feet, as I dance this dance (or perhaps I should think of it as a dance composed of many smaller dances?).  And if ever I am feeling heavy-footed, it's up to me to lighten myself, energise upward, take on and work around the gravity of gravity.  

How about you?